Like many parents, I spent my Saturday morning this week relaxing with my kids. We went to an event the Council had put on, and they had a great time playing on bouncy castles and mobbing someone in what I’m reliably told by Peter Hay was an Olaf costume.
Unlike most parents though, I left them with their carers at the end of the morning and went home. This is because they’re not my
kids in the traditional sense- they’re in the Council’s care, and I’m their corporate parent. And I’ve got just over 1900 of them.
Corporate parenting is a great concept, but a hard one to pin down. It means, simply, that for any child in a council’s care, the council should strive to provide for them what they would for their own. It’s a responsibility shared by members, employees and partners alike. But how do you go about this when you’ve got so many and you’re so remote from them? It’s a question councils up and down the country grapple with.
In Birmingham, we recently revamped our strategic approach. We have a new, improved and focussed Corporate Parenting Board which meets bi-monthly, and a Corporate Parenting Champion, Councillor Val Seabright. At the Board we keep track of the vital statistics that tell us how our children are doing – data from health, education, and social care- and check up on progress against the priorities our Children in Care Council has set for us. Outside of that, Val leads on championing the issue amongst members and staff and make sure we are all doing our bit. I monitor progress on adoption and fostering improvements through the Children’s Safeguarding Improvement Board I chair. The Overview and Scrutiny Committee holds the whole system to account.
But I decided to write my blog on this topic this week not because of the meetings I sit in, important as they are, but because of the fun I had yesterday. The bouncy castles and people in Disney costumes were the reward at the end of our first awards ceremony for children at the Virtual School- a “school” that all our children in care are part of, wherever they actually physically attend. This school has a head teacher and staff who make sure that every single one of our children is getting the extra help and support they need wherever they get educated. The ceremony was brilliant- children collected awards for attendance, “brilliant behaviour”, literacy, sports and overcoming personal circumstances, to name but a few categories. They brought their carers and siblings, fostered and familial, along to see them collect certificates from the Lord Mayor. Partners of the Council and local businesses chipped in to sponsor and make it extra special (thanks Queensbridge, Greggs, Pizza Hut, Service Birmingham and OLM!) and several senior staff and councillors came along too.
And sitting in the audience watching my kids grinning on stage with their awards, I couldn’t help but feel like a very proud corporate mum.